Seeing Red

– I –

Okay, Frank, get ready. I think I see him. Bright red, moving from lane to lane. He’s coming fast.”

Yeah, I see him. Camera’s ready. When he goes by I’ll start shooting.”

A red flash shot past the truck. Frank pressed the record buttons; in less than a moment the red car was a speck in the camera’s viewfinder.

I don’t know if this will work, Jim. I don’t think there’s ten seconds.”

Don’t worry. A few more days like this and we’ll have him. We’re not making a movie, just recording a jerk.”

Frank wondered about his friend. Jim had been preoccupied with a flamboyant red Honda S2000 and its driver for about two weeks. They usually saw it on Memorial Boulevard, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed. The red Honda had almost caused a wreck. Frank had listened several times to Jim’s moment-by-moment description of how this poor lady driving a Buick had almost been rear-ended by a Volvo. He would go on and on about that incident, even though Frank had been in the truck with him when it happened. Once he got started he kept talking about how he had to walk the lady to a nearby Denny’s, buy her coffee and phone a relative. Then he’d go back to talking about the red car. He would describe the driver, a wiry young man with straight black hair, medium height, who usually wore an Atlanta Falcons ball cap and, as if to purposely infuriate Jim, a rather large golden earring.

Apparently, Jim had a plan; however, he had not revealed all of it to Frank. It involved a video of the car driving recklessly down the road. Frank had known Jim for a long time. Jim was a good Christian man; an elder in their church. But this red car seemed to be an obsession. Frank didn’t think Jim would do anything illegal; but this already seemed crazy. All Frank knew to do was hope—and pray.

– II –

See ya Thursday!” Kevin hollered to a classmate. He put his books on the seat and glanced back at the college with a grin. Here it was October and he was looking at a “B” average. His friends had laughed and laughed when they heard he was going to college. They even pretended to bet on what day he would flunk out. No one had even picked a day in October. The popular bet was Labor Day. He laughed regretfully. He should have taken their bets. He was making it. He might not become a brain surgeon, but he wasn’t going to put up drywall for the rest of his life either. With any luck, he could manage an auto parts store. Anything that was a steady job with a steady income. He never wanted to live job to job the way his father did.

He glanced around the parking lot as the students’ vehicles were moving into position to exit. The tree leaves, he noticed, were just beginning to turn color. The line of cars waiting to merge into traffic began to shrink. It was nice of God, he thought, to let the leaves change color instead of just dropping to the ground to quickly turn brown. As the last car moved into the street Kevin opened his car door, slipped into the seat, buckled the safety belt and turned the key. The sound of mechanical power fueled by gasoline was music to his ears. He moved the car to his spot: the point at the far end of the parking lot where he could see past the trees and into the street. It was time to head across town and today Vera would be waiting for him. He looked at his watch, set the timer and started the car. He felt “game mode” commence, much like when he turned on his X-Box. Muscles tensed, senses quickened, nerves steeled. Checking the street for traffic and seeing none, he pressed the timer button on his watch and launched the car from its parking space. It shot across the parking lot, reaching 35 MPH before it hit the street. Like a small red space ship racing around other ships, meteors and space debris, the little red Honda flew down University Avenue. His eyes racing, seeking the enemy, spotting hazards, moving back and forth, in and out, feeling the machine roar with the power he controlled. Driving: the greatest game in the world.

The stoplight at University and Springer forced a tire squealing halt. Just as the light turned green, he accelerated over the railroad tracks with a nice bounce. At the intersection of Springer and Memorial Boulevard he tried a new trick. Pulling into the right turn lane on Springer, he arched right onto the paved shoulder of Memorial Boulevard, and checked for traffic in the mirror. He had split seconds to merge, but it was great! He gained at least seven seconds, maybe ten over a green light, and minutes over a red one. Memorial Boulevard was always easy. The traffic wasn’t too bad at this hour, and he could just fly. He was there in a flash. He steered a tight arc into the parking lot and gently rolled into his special space. He switched the ignition key to off and then pressed the button on his watch. 11 minutes, 16 seconds was the time on the dial. It was just average. His best time was 10 minutes 18 seconds. He guessed the stoplight had slowed him down.

He got out and started walking toward the restaurant. Vera always teased him about parking so far out in the lot. But he needed the same space every time and he wanted to make sure no one banged his car with their doors. He looked back at the car gleaming in the afternoon sun. Every day he said a thank you to his grandfather for giving him the car for his high school graduation present. It was a gift beyond his wildest dreams: an old Honda S2000 in need of a little restoration. Even if his grandfather could have afforded a new one, Kevin preferred one he could fix. Not only had he restored the body and the upholstery, he had rebuilt the engine. And not just rebuilt; he had tweaked it to perfection. It ran better than Honda ever dreamed. It was now a true show car, and he was proud of it.

– III –

Idiot!” Jim hollered as he quickly pumped the brake pedal, swerving his truck a little to the right to avoid hitting the car that had just pulled in front of him. Frank looked hard at Jim. They had been riding to work together for several years. He had never seen Jim this frantic; he didn’t recall ever seeing anyone so stressed for such a long time. Jim used to be a very careful driver. He called it “watchful driving” and said he was watching out for the idiots the government licensed; then he’d laugh and say, “Like me.” Too bad, he didn’t see himself that way now.

You know, Frank, sometimes I think the morning drivers are the worst. That guy just now, seems like he’s trying to get in an accident. Maybe the bum just doesn’t want to go to work.”

Frank murmured agreement. Anything less would bring Jim’s wrath on him. He’d tried once to point out that maybe the other driver was another human being with worried and cares. The tirade Jim delivered almost caused Frank to drive alone. But later Jim apologized, and Frank decided to continue riding with him. However, he didn’t stop praying every time he got in Jim’s truck.

You’re lucky, Frank. Six more months of this stupidity and you’re done. I’ve got two years before retirement. Two years, one month and thirteen days before I can ditch these idiot rush hour drivers.” He wished Jim wouldn’t talk about retirement. Frank was still a little bitter about the way the recent reorganization had forced retirement on him. Those two years would mean a lot in terms of retirement pay. Still, that was better than Jim’s new job supervising a herd of college kids. He had almost laughed out loud when Jim told him of his new position.

It’s like they’re brainless!” Jim was yelling about the traffic again, “Look at that! No turn signal. Just jump around from one lane to the other. It’s not faster to drive like that. I’ve proved it.”

Unless you’re that red car.” As soon as Frank said it, he regretted it.

Jim was silent for a moment. It was almost exactly like the moment when they launch the space shuttle. A brief silence as ignition takes place, and then the rockets start blasting. It only took moments for Jim to go into orbit, circling round and round the same old stuff. The accidents the red car almost caused, the way it surprised other drivers when the red Honda slipped in front of them from out of nowhere, other drivers that tried to emulate the red car, where were the police, what good is government, punk kids with no respect for themselves or anyone else and that damn earring.

Maybe Frank would start driving by himself. At least he wouldn’t have to watch every word. Could he risk Jim’s friendship for six months of peace?

– IV –

Martha looked at the clock: 11:30 pm. She sighed, realizing she’d missed the TV news. Jim was still talking about that kid in the red car. It was way past bedtime and he was still wound up. She had to force him into the shower. Now, sitting on the edge of the bed, she started to cry. How, she wondered, could she get Jim into counseling?

Focusing mindlessly on his dresser, she began to notice the items on it: the car keys, the cologne, the little frog dish their son had made where Jim kept his tie-bar, his college beer mug which now functioned as a coin bank, the old hair brush that she so disliked but he refused to throw away. They were familiar items, each reflecting a small part of him. Even though it seemed like none of these things could help, she had stopped crying.

She couldn’t help but ponder her husband’s words. Apparently, Frank had joined him to try to make a video of the red car speeding down the street. Today, they had recorded several cars slamming on brakes, surprised by the movement of the red car. Jim was overjoyed. “It was,” he kept saying, “the icing on the cake.” He never did tell her why he wanted a video of the car.

However, he did tell her about what he called a stroke of luck. They were able to follow the kid into an Italian restaurant in a shopping plaza over in Clifton Terrace. It seemed the kid was very friendly with one of the waitresses. Jim’s focus was so narrow that he couldn’t even describe the restaurant to her, but he told her almost everything the kid had done.

She gathered that there was a counter in the restaurant and the kid sat on a stool at the far end of it. Jim told her that he and Frank sat at a table right behind him, where they could hear much of what was said. They learned that the kid’s name was Kevin and the waitress was named Vera.

Jim was incensed that the kid drove fast and reckless just to see a girl. She watched her husband get angry, raising his voice to nearly a shout, telling her how the fool kid wasn’t rushing to work, or anything that might offer a rationalization: he was just a careless, reckless kid endangering others for no reason at all. She had rarely seen her husband so upset and angry. Even the time Jim Jr. sneaked out when he was grounded, went to a party and came home drunk, she didn’t remember that Jim was this upset.

Thinking of their oldest son made her look at the frog dish again. Could this have something to do with Jim Jr.? When the news came that the plane he was flying had crashed in a training exercise they both felt that more than just their son had died. Could something about this kid remind Jim of their son? All she knew was to listen, love him and pray. She did not remember the last time they had prayed together. He just talks about the kid and the car. At least he was talking about it. It would be worse if he kept it bottled up inside. Maybe one day soon he would say something that would help her understand.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Jim, invigorated from his shower, enthusiastically jabbering about the plan he developed while in the shower.

Honey, slow down! I don’t have the foggiest notion what you’re talking about. Now come over here, lay down on the bed and tell me what you figured out.” And, she hoped, go to sleep.

He walked over toward the bed, but stood in front of her to explain his plan. “Well, I’ll just take a copy of the video to that restaurant and give it to him. I can get him talking about rude drivers and people who don’t know how to drive–jerks never think they drive like that–and then I’ll give him the disk. That’ll teach him.”

She said nothing, but looked at him as if he’d just asked her to sleep on the roof. “Well?” He was very uncomfortable with her silence, but knew from experience not to push her.

Finally, she made her statement, “You get in a fight and get arrested for brawling with that kid and I’ll let you rot. And then I’ll get up in front of the entire Church on Sunday morning and tell them you couldn’t be there because you’re a damned fool.”

Jim was stunned. “Martha, Honey, there’s not going to be a fight. I just want to stop that fool kid from causing an accident. I’m not going to tell him what’s on the disk, I’m going to make up some story about having a disk of some inconsiderate driver and maybe he might help me figure out what to do and then I’ll go to the truck and get it, and give it to him, and leave. I’m going to be a friend, and he’s going to help me find this rude driver. No confrontation. No fight. Just a friendly conversation anda parting gift. He’ll never see me again. And if he keeps endangering people, I’ll sen d a copy to the police. If he drives safely, well, all’s well that ends well.”

She looked up at him, “I don’t know. You’ve been acting so crazy lately. Nothing but that fool kid. You don’t talk about anything else. I don’t know why he bothers you so much. You’ve quit reading. You quit watching C-span. You don’t know anything about football this year. You don’t even know what I fixed for dinner.” She paused a moment. He wanted to say “Chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli, biscuits and ice cream for dessert,” but he knew better.

It’s been weeks since we prayed together,” she continued. “I don’t think you’ve prayed at all lately. You do nothing but fret over that kid. Nothing. Nothing but that kid. Now don’t say another word, just get in bed and go to sleep.”

He lay down on the bed, reached over and turned off the light, and whispered, “Martha, I love you. I love you very much.”

– V –

It was one of those cool, wet autumn days when a cold front was washing away the last vestiges of summer. Kevin loved the weather. Rain, snow, sunshine, any weather was wonderful. Today he loved the way the cool damp rain had cleaned the air and left it fresh and sharp. He had even dressed for the rain because he would need to walk in it between classes. As he sped down the street, the S2000 created a wonderful cloud of water that sprayed everywhere. He wished he could turn around and watch the spray, but he had to keep his eyes on the road. The rain had been extremely heavy and there were puddles on the pavement that could make the car hydroplane. The puddles were one more obstacle for him to avoid and they added to the challenge. There was little traffic, and he was able to really fly down the center of Memorial Boulevard.

He spun the car into his special parking space and tapped the button on his watch. 10 minutes and 12 seconds was the reading. He looked at it again, gave out a loud joyful yell. A new record time! He just set a new record time and he did it in the rain! He hardly remembered the drive; everything went so smoothly. He sat there for a few minutes, celebrating. There was a great old Rolling Stones song on the radio and he could sing along with the chorus, “Jumping Jack Flash is a g-g-gas!” He wanted to do something special to celebrate, and decided to give Vera a flower. So he put the car into gear and headed across the street to the florist’s. The radio began reporting an accident on Memorial Boulevard. Traffic had stopped in both westbound lands. He looked down the street and noticed that there was no traffic in front of the plaza, so they must be right. He could drive straight across with no problem. It occurred to him that he could be caught in that traffic jam. He said a thank-you to whatever gods watched over the traffic.

Kevin bought Vera a red carnation. He didn’t have enough money for a rose. The florist was nice and wrapped it up with some tiny white flowers. As he returned to his special parking space, he noticed the girls under an awning outside the restaurant, pointing at him and laughing. At first he was puzzled by their laughter. Then he stared in amazement as he realized why they were laughing and pointing at him. The parking lot had filled with water up to the curb.

The rain had tapered off to a drizzle. If the girls weren’t watching, it wouldn’t be a problem, but how, he wondered, does one wade through a parking lot with your girlfriend and her friends watching you? Should he move the car up closer to the curb? That seemed like wimping out, and he’d still have to wade through the water. He decided to ignore the water. His black boots were laced up over his jeans, and he had his leather jacket for the drizzle. He held the flower carefully in his left hand, stepped out of the car and tried to walk nonchalantly toward the restaurant.

It dawned on him when he was halfway there that he was in a no-win situation. The girls would laugh no matter what he did. Seemed like it was always that way. No matter what, the world laughed at you. It set you up and laughed. Unconsciously, he looked up to the sky. It was very low, dark and ominous. For a moment, it seemed that the whole world was out to get him.

Then he saw the smile on Vera’s face. Something in her look was warming and loving. Just for a second he saw how sexy he must look to her; but he let it slip by, thinking himself looking foolish wading through the parking lot. It had started raining a little bit harder as soon as he closed the car door. But he couldn’t run in water that deep. Because of the splashing he made wading to curb and the sound of the girls giggling, he felt like a real fool. He had no idea that the girls might be giggling because the tall, beefy young man with long dark hair, leather jacket and his jeans tucked into his boots striding vigorously toward them through the rain looked dark, handsome and very sexy.

As he stepped up on the curb Vera ran up, accepted the flower and kissed him as though she were reaffirming her claim on him. When she loosened her hold on him, Kevin found himself facing her girlfriends. He wanted to melt away like cotton candy in the rain, but he could only think to greet the girls properly. He took off his cap and made a bow, like a knight or duke might make, and sauntered into the restaurant. The girls giggled some more and clapped nervously. He felt extremely foolish, in spite of Vera’s kiss, and buried himself on the stool at the far end of the counter.

The restaurant was completely empty, which explained the girls being outside. It wasn’t empty very long. The rain stopped, the parking lot drained quickly and customers who had been sitting patiently in their cars wandered in. Kevin felt even more foolish, realizing that almost everyone in the restaurant saw him wade through the parking lot and make a fool of himself.

– VI –

Jim left work a few minutes early: Frank had found another ride home. It was odd how Frank suddenly developed some excuse to do something at the house and couldn’t join him this afternoon. Jim wished he could leave early every day, since the traffic was so light. The rain eased into drizzle and driving was relatively easy. He was coasting to avoid hydroplaning in a large puddle when a wall of water suddenly covered his truck. Instinctively, he hit the brake, and fright made him hit it too hard. He hydroplaned to the shoulder. Fortunately, no one was behind him. In the distance, he could see a red Honda S2000 straddling both lanes.

Anger does strange things. Sometimes it makes you act hotheaded and irrational. Sometimes it makes you act in a cold, calculated manner. Jim, shook up by the near accident, sat quietly for a moment. A couple of deep, angry breaths and he put the truck in gear and checked the traffic. It was clear, so he pulled back onto the right lane and continued toward the restaurant. He couldn’t think. All he could do was drive.

The red S2000 wasn’t in the parking lot. Unfortunately, the parking lot was full of water. He would have to wait for it to drain. He parked his truck a short distance away from the restaurant. The entire parking lot and the restaurant were visible from his vantage point.

Jim began thinking about how he was going to handle things. How, for example, would he get to talk to the kid? Then, could he get the conversation turned to inconsiderate drivers? Finally, what would the kid do?

Lightning struck close by, followed by a peal of extremely loud thunder. The rain dropped from the sky like someone pouring out a huge bucket of water.

Staring at the downpour, Jim wondered what the kid’s face would look like when he saw the video. Then a thought jarred him like thunder: he would not be there when the kid looked at the video. He would not get to see the kid’s face! Jim felt robbed. He stared at the clouds and the rain blowing across the parking lot and could not understand why he had not seen this flaw in his plan. What good was it if you couldn’t see the look on the guy’s face when you get him? It made him think of an old movie, The Sting. He had always wondered why the heroes went to such an elaborate scheme when they couldn’t tell the villain that they had beat him. For Robert Redford’s character it wasn’t the money; it was the revenge. He got everything but seeing the guy’s face.

Jim wanted more. He wanted more than revenge. He wanted more than to see the kid’s face. He wanted to hurt the kid. He wanted to hurt the kid and he really wanted to hurt that car. He imagined a rifle. A .22 caliber rifle. He could almost feel the rifle in his hands aiming at where he imagined the red car would park. He was trying to decide whether to shoot the car with the kid in it, or let the kid get out, then shoot the car while the kid watched. He took a practice shot. His anger was so great that he could feel the recoil of the rifle. He laid the rifle on the dashboard. Looking across the parking lot, he could see water pouring into the lot from the street. Near where he thought the red car would park, he could see the kid lying in the water, blood pouring from a single hole in the side of his head.

Jim blinked. The parking lot was empty except for a blue Volkswagen and a black Civic. The rain had once again reverted to a light drizzle. Three more cars pulled into the parking lot. Then the enemy appeared.

The red S2000 seemed to glide into its parking place. Jim watched Kevin fiddling with something. Slowly, he reached for the rifle. His anger was so great that he could feel it. Solid, cold, wicked: and very comfortable in his hands.

He fired a round into the rear window. The second round went through the left rear window and the right front window. Kevin got out of the car. He put the third round through the trunk, aiming down so the bullet would pass through the gas tank. The explosion was beautiful.

Kevin didn’t seem to notice. He was holding something in his hands, something precious. He was walking, almost strutting, and splashing through the water as if it were not there. Jim aimed at the precious thing in Kevin’s hands, fired, and saw the red blood. He aimed at Kevin’s head and fired again. As he fired, he saw the precious object and recognized something very familiar in the way Kevin was strutting toward the restaurant.

As Kevin fell to the ground, the sky immediately turned blue, the sun was shining and Jim was working in the flower bed in his front yard. His son, Jim Jr. was strutting up the walk, carrying a red carnation to his mother for her birthday. Instead of a shovel, the tool in his hand was a .22 caliber rifle. Jim Jr. was dead on the sidewalk.

Lightning flashed, thunder roared, and Jim saw Vera kiss Kevin as he gave her the red carnation.

– VII –

It was a good ten minutes before Jim began to realize his surroundings. He had been crying, sobbing, weeping, unable to cope with the emotional pain. As he began to comprehend his situation, the sobbing started again.

He had committed murder. Not actually, but in his heart. He knew that if there had been a rifle in his truck, he would have used it. He wanted revenge, but he had no idea why. Revenge, vengeance, retribution, justice. In his mind he could hear the words, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord,” and, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Here he was supposed to be a leader in his church setting an example for others, and he was down here seeking to murder a kid.

Jim sat in his truck staring at the rain and finally he did something he had not done in weeks. He bowed his head. “Oh Lord, forgive me,” was all he could say. He sat there for a few minutes, head bowed, repenting. It all came up, like eating something rotten, only this was spiritual food: the attitudes and thoughts he had feasted upon. The traffic, the red car, the kid, the reorganization at work, the young men and women he was supervising, his age and retirement, even his anger at God over the death of his son, all were elements of his life that he had tried to manage himself. He was trying to manage a whirlwind, a tornado that had ripped up his life, spreading confusion and anger. It was so easy to get sucked in and blown away. Nothing in any of this was for the glory of God. He had to drop all of it. Just let it go. Just do his job for the glory of God. Just drive the truck for the glory of God. Just let God have it all, the kids at work, the jerks on the highway, his son, everything. It wasn’t going to be easy to give all that stuff to God.

He suddenly realized that he was sitting in his truck with the windows rolled up and fogged over. Thankfully, no one had seen him. That was good. He wiped the inside of the windshield. The rain had stopped. The water in the parking lot was down to less than an inch at most. Many of the restaurant’s customers were splashing through it in anticipation of a steaming plate of spaghetti. Their splashing reminded him of Kevin strutting through the water carrying that flower.

Foolish kid. He was amazed that the kid got out and walked to the restaurant. The kid had guts. He could never have done that. Walking through water, even with good sturdy boots, was a risky thing to do with those girls watching, but it seemed a normal thing for him to do. How he handled the girls was another matter. If Martha had kissed him like that in front of her girlfriends, Jim would have turned around and fled into the darkest part of the restaurant. All those girls laughing and giggling would have been too much. Kevin, Jim guessed, must be what they called “cool.”

His son was like that. Jim Jr. would have splashed through the water to give a girl a flower. He would not have worn an earring; but he would have kissed a girl like that. Jim had seen it happen. He was grateful that Martha had never done that to him. Kissing should be done in private. Martha’s kisses were wonderful. Private and wonderful.

Martha! How could he tell her about this? Should he? How could he keep it from her? He didn’t know what she would think, but he had to tell her. She was upset with him last night. She didn’t say anything to him this morning. Remembering her tirade last night, he realized how idiotic he had been. She was right; there would have been a fight.

He sat quietly. The rain stopped. The remaining water drained out of the parking lot as the wind blew the clouds away. The calmness that now strengthened him was a welcome relief. He sat in prayer, asking God what he should do. If he left now Kevin just might cause an accident and kill someone. However, he couldn’t just walk in and give the video to the kid. He prayed patiently, honestly listening to God. It wasn’t long before he had his answer.

When he opened the restaurant door, he saw Kevin sitting at the far end of the counter. Jim looked back at the red car in the parking lot, then up toward Heaven. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and entered the restaurant.

Vera was delivering four plates of spaghetti to a booth by the window. He walked up to the counter. One of the other girls greeted him with a smile. Jim smiled back and pointed to Vera, “I need to see her.”

Vera appeared behind the counter.

Handing the DVD to her, Jim said, “Hello. You have a friend who doesn’t understand what he is doing. Perhaps this will help him understand his situation. I hope, for his sake, that it does.” He turned around and walked out the door.

 

The photo of the Honda S2000 I found on Flickr…Google marked it as “Labeled for Reuse”. I found it at https://www.flickr.com/photos/vivekjena/9167263841. I altered the license plate so that the actual number is unreadable.

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